Outliers: the story of progression

I’ve always wanted to be that person who wore pressed white linen and didn’t spill. Who could leave their pristine home of a morning, perfectly kept, exuding effortless charm. Who could open a box of dark chocolates, take one, and save the rest for later; slowly enveloping what is left in small folds of origami, making it appear like whatever was left is a precious gift, and should be prepared as a sort of ritualistic offering to a later self.

I on the other hand, don’t have a later self. Once that box is opened, all I need is a strong stomach and about a half-hour. You’d be lucky to have seen the chocolates to begin with.

I am of the messier kind. The kind where one thought rolls quickly and quietly into the next and it runs around in my head like a cat chasing light across a floor. There are times where I am halfway through a thought when it rushes to my lips and then escapes into the air, carried away by the wind as if the elements know not to let it linger, or perhaps its to give me a second chance to collect my thoughts before retiring the conversation altogether.

My recent days, like many of us, revolve around zoom meetings. Often, I try to be out and about, and properly caffeinated before the first of them hit, feeling like a spark of clear thought can only ignite when the sun rises and the day becomes official.
I’ve proven the morning spark to be wrong on many occasions, of course, not caring to admit that my best thoughts seem to come from a sort of restless meandering. Little sleep and at random times. At odds with my previous notion that energy drives thought and that progress drives energy.

There was a passage from a book I read recently called Outline by Rachel Cusk, which reminded me of a conversation my boyfriend and I had a few months back around the concept of progression.  

“And so I learned, he said, that it is impossible to improve things, and that good people are just as responsible for it as bad, and that improvement itself is perhaps a mere personal fantasy. We are all addicted to it, he said, the story of improvement; but this sense of life as a progression is something I want no more of. These days, he said, I live very simply. In the mornings, at sunrise, I drive to a place I know twenty minutes outside Athens and I swim all the way across the bay and all the way back again. In the evenings I sit on my balcony and write”.

I don’t agree that it’s impossible to improve things. The character was newly divorced and our perception is altered by our state of emotion.

The topic of progression is tricky though. Progress is different for everyone; everyone’s circumstance is unique. Not everyone cares to leave origami folded chocolate behind, for example.

But what if you saw no progress in any life area?

Youth can apply and work towards almost anything, the physicality itself bringing forward the enormous energy needed to work hard and persist. The formula I was sure equalled progression.

But what of when we age? I’d never considered it before. I have always had youth. I worked hard and I persisted. From there I always found my progression to be linear.

I’m toying with the idea that agility is the real key to progression. Agility allows us to seamlessly shift from one area to another. We age and our bodies and minds inevitably fail us. Where and what do we shift to? Surely the answer is to our relationships and to nature.

But then I consider the point Cusk is making in the novel. Why do we need to progress at all?  
Covid has slowed so many of us down, some of us to a place we’d never been before. Still. Without movement. Without progression. What if progression is the abandonment of spark? The abandonment of thought, of pristine homes and white linen? Why does that need to be cynical? Maybe that is what we need. A surrender.
None of us can say. What I do know to be true is personal to me – that until I lose my body and my mind thereafter, a swim across the bay (beach) and some writing of an evening is progression enough for me.

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